OU Torah Insights Project
The mitzvah of lighting the Menorah is described in this weeks parshah. The lighting was to take place in a manner where all the lights were to be inclined towards the central shaft. In the Sefer Iturei Torah by Rabbi Aaron Yaakov Greenberg we find the comment that the light of the menorah is symbolic of knowledge. The number seven is representative of the seven branches of wisdom. The central shaft of the menorah represents Torah knowledge. But knowledge and wisdom is only valuable when directed toward the central shaft of Torah principles. To this end, the term employed in commanding Aharon to kindle the Menorah, "Behaalosecha," means, literally, "When you elevate." So, too, secular knowledge achieves inherent worth only when it is elevated.
This thought was often expressed by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his essays on Torah im derech eretz. Rav Hirsch forcefully argued that secular knowledge was not to be shunned. On the contrary, "The times must be raised to the level of Torah, Torah must not be lowered to the times."
The Kesav Sofer, in his Torah commentary, analyzes the Sabbath blessing given by fathers to their sons: "May you be like Ephraim and Menashe." Why are these two role models chosen over all others?
The answer lies in the essence of the achievements of Ephraim and Menashe. Ephraim was the prototypical Torah scholar, while Menashe represented secular achievement. We pray that our children attain both realms, but, cautions the Kesav Sofer, we must remember that Yaakov "placed Ephraim before Menashe." Secular studies have value only when preceded by Torah hashkafah and spirit.
The Torah describes the Menorah as consisting of one piece of pure gold. Torah and secular studies cannot be artificially torn asunder. When they are one organic whole, dedicated to appreciating the spiritual dimension to all that exists, they truly form one unit which is pure and precious.
A simple but poignant description of how Torah and secular studies can form a perfect association is found in the writings of Rav Yitzchok Hutner, z"tl. A student was concerned about the propriety of his pursuit of a secular profession, notwithstanding his proficiency in Torah studies.
The student was reassured by Rav Hutner that it is indeed possible to "rent two rooms" in one apartment. He explained the need to draw a circle around ones life, to place G-d in the middle of the circle, and then to broaden the circle with "points" of life.
The Torah tells us that Aharon fulfilled his obligation and, according to Rashi, "he did not change." The Vilna Gaon explains that the enthusiasm of Aharon never waned. He never felt that his Avodas Hashem was rote. Aharon could do the same mitzvah many times and still do it with freshness and vitality.
We, too, must strive to live an integrated life, one where all our actives are directed to the central light of Torah. If we can attain this harmonious integration, we will achieve the Menorahs ideal of "kindling an eternal light." It is this light that has illuminated the Jewish world. We await the time when this light will touch all of G-ds creations.
Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld
Rabbi Rosenfeld is executive director of the Chicago Rabbinical Council in Chicago, Illinois.